Paperless Manufacturing: Justifying the End of Paper Systems

Author Lewis Dixon, July 1, 2023

Manufacturing is becoming smarter all the time. In recent years, data has become arguably the most valuable business commodity for manufacturers, with companies keen to collect as much usable information as possible about their processes to make operations lean, efficient and reliable - and allow for swift, intelligent decision making on the shop-floor.

Manufacturing digitalisation is the path toward your factory of the future. Every aspect of manufacturing needs to interconnect and be part of the greater IIoT framework to fully realise Industry 4.0. From real-time operational data, to production output, to energy use, paperless manufacturing and digital data collection makes end-to-end plant connectivity intuitive and comprehensive.

The transition to a paperless manufacturing setup is one of the first steps manufacturers should take toward a factory of the future. Digitalising all operational data on the shop floor is essential for operators and machines to work together to maximise OEE and empower workers to stay engaged.

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Making the Transition to Paperless Manufacturing Setup

Gen Z and millennials make up an increasingly large percentage of the workforce.These digital natives, who grew up on laptops and smartphones, are used to working paperless. That said, manufacturing operations can’t leave behind those workers who may be more comfortable with the use of paper processes in manufacturing. The shift toward digitisation must be supported by reskilling workers with an intuitive and practical system put in place to make the transition smooth - it can also reduce human error.

Despite occasional pushback from managers and operators, a paperless manufacturing workflow is what will propel your factory into the future and set it up for long term and sustainable growth. Not only do the benefits far outweigh any drawbacks, paperless manufacturing setup is the key to achieving the factory of the future, facilitating streamlined processes, AI integration, and the optimisation of enterprise resource planning (ERP) and manufacturing execution systems (MES).

Benefits of Paperless Manufacturing

Digitalising manufacturing has a number of benefits from economic, to environmental, to human. We’ve seen over the course of 2020 and 2021 that society is ready for a paperless future. The rapid acceptance of online workplace solutions throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has more than proven our collective capability to adapt to digital technologies.

If we can take one positive away from the pandemic it’s that – as a whole – we’re more prepared and ready to make the shift to digital. For manufacturing facilities, a transition to paperless manufacturing setup operation is the first step to a smart, connected factory: the factory of the future is paperless. Still not sure, here are some example benefits:

1. Paperless Manufacturing Workflow Saves Money

There’s no question that going paperless in manufacturing saves money. The infrastructure supporting paper based manufacturing requires constant investment and upkeep. From the cost of consumables like paper, toner, pens, pencils and file folders, to the purchase and maintenance of printers and copy machines, paper based workflows can account for up to 3% of an organisation's revenue.

In addition, the use of paper also requires subsequent digitalisation of data. A seemingly redundant process that takes time to get information from paper records onto a central database. This time is not only a labour cost – it also slows down the sharing and analysis of important operational information.

2. Data Can Be Used Instantly in a Smart Connected Factory

Digital logging of plant data – from quality checks, production data, time sheets and other paperless manufacturing processes – is instantly and automatically shared in a central database like a cloud storage solution. In a connected factory shop-floor, this information can be used in real-time by other machines and operators in the plant’s workflow and adherence to standard operating procedures can be instantly verified. Changes in production can be made either by human operators or through AI that can optimise output through the correlation with other production data or business processes.

3. Seamless ERP System and MES Integration

Along with all plant data being easily and instantly accessible and shareable, paperless manufacturing workflow integrates seamlessly with ERP and MES systems. Take SAP, for example: operational output, both real-time data and historical information, can be automatically shared company-wide without the need for manual inputs and validation. When configured parameters are met, data is pushed to SAP where a work order is created for the designated responsible team.

Going paperless manufacturing setup eliminates the need to send various KPIs, financials, timesheets, or shift information to various departments around the factory. Seamless integration means simple, instant, and accurate reporting into your ERP, whether already existing in your plant or newly adopted.

For the MES side, planning of resources - whether human or machine - is effortlessly optimised, precise, and straightforward. Plant managers can use smart, AI driven tools that are integrated in their planning software to get the most out of their production efficiencies - boosting OEE with production OEE software, minimising downtime, and ensuring that operators are satisfied and engaged during their shifts.

Integrating paperless manufacturing workflow across a Factory of the Future will allow for optimisation of major data inputs throughout a plant’s ERP and take nearly all of the guesswork out of scheduling, financial decisions, and staffing. Syncing digital information streams will lead plants to a massive reduction of duplicate data by keeping everything stored in one, easily accessible place. That means that it’s instantly accessible for data correlation, elevating and unifying all of the data on the factory floor, becoming a single source of truth.


4. Paperless Manufacturing Setup Shift Changeovers

A paperless, flexible digital manufacturing system simplifies and enhances key processes reporting for shift changeovers. It incorporates and merges all required shift data including checks and KPIs for up to date and accurate reporting.

This type of system allows employees to log completed tasks, check the status of tasks and view outstanding items. After the data capture, this information can then be analysed for productivity trends and used for highlighting areas of focus for strategic decision making.


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5. Data Management and Audit Readiness

Paperless manufacturing workflow is the best solution for audit readiness. As data is entered into a digital database, key operational data from quality, to safety, to energy use, to production output is all systematically logged.

When it comes time for a scheduled – or even random – audit, data, such as batch records, can be pulled instantly from any specific period. Not only does this save time and boost data accuracy, it best prepares the facility to undergo a successful and stress-free auditing process.


6. Standardisation and Optimisation

Paperless manufacturing workflow facilitates standardised procedures that can be developed and automatically dispatched. When it comes time to make changes or add new procedures, digital forms and checklists can be easily updated and distributed through the cloud in seconds.

As plants move toward a smart connected factory, paperless manufacturing setup fits into their digitalisation journey. Standardising across facilities, comparing efficiencies and optimising production can be at your fingertips with paperless manufacturing workflow and production tracking.


7. Paperless Manufacturing Setup is Better for the Environment

Sustainable manufacturing is essential in achieving the factory of the future. A smart, connected factory provides insights to operators to fine-tune production output to minimise their environmental impact. Eliminating paper is only a natural extension on this planet-friendly journey.

Paperless manufacturing setup will reduce your factory’s carbon footprint. Going digital not only eliminates paper, printers and many of the traditional office supplies, a paperless manufacturing setup facility can eliminate the need for filing rooms and printing rooms, fundamentally altering the way plants and buildings can be designed.

With the right data storage solution (ideally on a secure cloud network) manufacturing data is more safe and secure – protected against the loss and degradation risks associated with paper.



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8. Paperless Manufacturing Workflow Reduces Errors

The automatic sharing of digital data across the shop-floor will reduce errors in data collection, allowing factory teams to make smarter predictions and eliminate the need to perform multiple validations throughout any given process.

A physical paper trail can be nearly impossible to safe-guard from human errors, lost or damaged documents, and problems during data entry. Shifting to entirely paperless manufacturing workflow ensures that only the correct data is collected and distributed.



Does Paperless Manufacturing Setup Have Any Drawbacks?

There aren’t many reasons to be hesitant about a paperless manufacturing setup. Sure, there will be growing pains during the transition. Reskilling is absolutely necessary to give employees the best chance at adapting to a paperless manufacturing workflow – especially for less technology-literate staff and those people with accessibility limitations. Along with training, another important issue is that protocols must be set in place in order to maintain systematic and consistent data entry.

Paper documents are certainly easy and convenient. But paperless manufacturing workflow can be just as convenient if supplied with the right product. Straightforward applications, fast-reacting hardware and a commitment to offer error-free and intuitive software is paramount to ensure a successful transition to paperless production processes.


How to Make The Transition to Paperless Manufacturing Setup

Whether it's your first or last step in your facility’s digital transformation, paperless manufacturing workflow empower teams and build end-to-end traceability across processes and across business units.

The first crucial step in shifting to paperless manufacturing setup is the use of smart, intuitive data reporting technology. Software and hardware solutions need to be easy to use, error-free and fast loading. Paperless manufacturing workflow solutions will make reporting quicker and easier for operators, but it’s essential that the right package be selected for the manufacturing facility’s specific needs.

Your digitalisation journey toward Industry 4.0 and the factory of the future starts with moving to paperless manufacturing workflow. For some, a slow transition may be the most effective to successfully implement. Other companies can dive head-first into a completely paperless manufacturing setup. The most important factor is investing in people and giving them an intuitive and efficient digital solution that makes their workday more fulfilling.


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